Walking the Aisles: Sutherlands

Salt Lake City — Privately held home improvement retailer Sutherlands Lumber, based in Kansas City, Mo., has gone where few lumber companies have gone before — from a 1917 mom-and-pop to a home improvement chain that operates in 13 states.

The company ranked 13th on the 2012 Home Channel News Top 300 Industry Scoreboard, where it’s wedged between Northern Tool & Equipment and Builders FirstSource. But Sutherlands’ Salt Lake City store, its westernmost outpost, is more like Menards, with an eclectic merchandise mix that’s also heavy on lumber.

Turnstiles regulate foot traffic into the store. A few steps beyond, visitors are greeted with a table stacked with bags of onions and potatoes. Beyond that, a table of jeans — all evidence that the company’s buyers and merchants are encouraged to take chances.

Barbed wire and fencing supplies, along with a prominent Ranch-Way Feeds sign give a rural feel to the store, which is located near downtown.

Sutherlands deserves credit for its role as home center innovator in the early 20th century. But as it expands with local-market knowledge, it’s also a story for the 21st.

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